From Sydney and Shanghai : Australian and Chinese women writing modernism

Carson, Susan J. (2009) From Sydney and Shanghai : Australian and Chinese women writing modernism. In Yao, Steven, Gilles , Mary Ann, & Sword, Helen (Eds.) Pacific Rim Modernism. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, pp. 173-198.

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In the 1930s and 1940s, Australian women writers published novels, poems, and short stories that pushed the boundaries of their national literary culture. From their position in the Pacific, they entered into a dialogue with a European modernism that they reworked to invigorate their own writing and to make cross-continental connections. My interest in the work of Australian women prose writers of this period stems from an appreciation of the extent of their engagement with interwar modernism (an engagement that is generally under-acknowledged) and the realization that there are commonalities of approach with the ways in which contemporaneous Chinese authors negotiated this transnational cultural traffic. China and Australia, it has been argued, share an imaginative and literal association of many centuries, and this psychic history produces a situation in which ‘Australians feel drawn towards China: they cannot leave it alone.’1 Equally, Chinese exploration of the great southern land began in the fifteenth century, prior to European contact. In recent times, the intensity of Australia’s cultural and commercial connections with Asia has led to a repositioning of the Australian sense of regionalism in general and, in particular, has activated yet another stage in the history of its relationship with China. In this context, the association of Australian and Chinese writing is instructive because the commonalities of approach and areas of interest between certain authors indicate that Australian writers were not alone in either the content or style of their response to European modernism. This recognition, in turn, advances discussions of modernism in Australia and reveals an alternative way of looking at the world from the Pacific Rim through literature. The intent is to examine selective Australian and Chinese authors who are part of this continuous history and whose writing demonstrates common thematic and stylistic features via the vector of modernism. I focus on the 1930s and 1940s because these are the decades in which Australia and China experienced wideranging conflict in the Pacific, and it is significant that war, both forthcoming and actual, features as an ominous soundtrack in the writing of Chinese and Australian women. I argue that, given the immensity of cultural difference between Australia and China, there is an especially interesting juncture in the ways in which the authors interrogate modernist practices and the challenge of modernism. The process in which writing from the Pacific Rim jointly negotiates the twin desires of engaging with European literary form and representing one’s own culture may be seen as what Jessica Berman identifies as a geomodernism, one of the ‘new possible geographies’ of modernism.2 My discussion centres on the work of the Australian women, to which the Chinese material serves as a point of reference, albeit a critical one. The Chinese writing examined here is restricted to authors who wrote at least some material in English and whose work is available in translation.

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ID Code: 31600
Item Type: Book Chapter
Additional URLs:
Keywords: australia , china, literature, modernism, comparative, pacific , rim
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > LITERARY STUDIES (200500)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2009 University of Toronto Press
Deposited On: 31 Mar 2010 23:36
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2016 16:41

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